Mad about mediums: a primer to acrylic mediums

When I started art journaling, my paint of choice {i.e., what I had lying around the house from my previous art experiments} was poster paint. But I soon realized that these paints are water-reactive and that you cannot layer on paint colors without it all turning into a gloopy mess. So, I went out and bought myself a set of acrylic paints.

As I started playing with acrylics, I knew I had found my art soul mate – except, there was no way to blend these well, because they dried so damn fast! Then started my research – and soon, I was lost in the world of mediums.

There are SO MANY acrylic mediums, and mediums from each company act slightly differently, that within minutes, my head was reeling with too much information. But if, at any point, you want to move beyond the art journal page and on to canvas, you really need to know your mediums so that you can achieve the effects you want without pulling all your hair out.

So, let’s get right into it!

Acrylic mediums: Matte medium

This is one versatile medium that you must include in your toolbox, even if you never want to venture onto canvas. It’s invaluable if you’re using mixed media techniques – paint it over waxy mediums (like oil pastels) or acrylics (which are plasticy) to create a slightly gritty, matte surface so you can layer with color pencils or pens. You can use it to thin out and extend the transparency of acrylic paints. If you have a mix of glossy paints and matte paints on a spread, a layer of matte medium over the whole thing will tone down the glossiness a bit. You can also use it between layers to strengthen the paper if you feel like you’ve overworked it and it may start to bubble and tear. You can also use it to glue down images – make sure that you use it both under and over the image you are sticking on to the page.

Acrylic mediums: Soft gel medium and heavy gel medium

Gel mediums are another super versatile supply to have on hand. These are generally thicker and not as pourable as matt medium, and come in three finishes – matte, gloss and semi-gloss or satin. Gel mediums are mixed with acrylics to thicken the consistency of the paints, which enables you to exaggerate your brush strokes and is excellent for techniques like impasto. If you want to increase the glossiness of acrylics, mix in a bit of gloss gel medium and see how the colors pop. Gel mediums almost always dry clear, so you can put a coat of gel medium on the top of your completed image as a varnish – if you use a gloss gel medium, you can increase the vibrancy of your colors. Gel medium also makes a really good glue for collage work. If you have something dimensional to add to your surface, use heavy gel medium to make sure it stays put.

Acrylic mediums: Glazing medium

Glazing mediums are mixed with acrylics to create transparent glazes. The ratio of glaze to paint will determine how transparent the glaze is – typically a higher ratio of glazing medium to acrylic paint will create a more transparent effect. Another factor to keep in mind when purchasing a glazing medium is to determine what effect you want to achieve. If you want to create multiple layers of glaze fairly quickly, get Liquitex’s glazing medium. It’s a self-levelling medium that dries quickly, allowing you to layer rapidly. If you want more open time with your glazes to better blend colors together, go with Golden’s glazing medium. Depending on the weather conditions, it will give you up to 30 minutes of open time to blend in multiple colors.

Acrylic mediums: Modeling (or Molding) paste

Modeling pastes are indispensible when it comes to creating texture. The consistency of the paste – light, heavy, or extra heavy – will determine how subtle or exaggerated your texture is. It’s important to remember that modeling pastes are opaque and will cover any layers underneath. These can be mixed with acrylic colors to create lightly tinted texture, or you can paint over it once it is dry. Since modelling paste is absorbent, it can also be used as a ground for most painting and drawing media. Modeling paste can also be used to create sculptural effects on hard substrates such as canvas board or preferably wood as you can carve into it once it has dried. Definitely something to play with and explore if you would like to create more three-dimensional art. For the purposes of an art journal, light modelling paste is perfect.

There are a lot more beautiful mediums that would make a wonderful addition to your toolbox, but these ones here are an excellent starting point. Happy exploring!

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19 Comments

    • It’s excellent for texture! Do experiment with it; I’m sure you’ll like it.

      The Rumi oracle is really beautiful…I plan to do a deck review with it next month. 🙂

  1. Your post is very useful to me for I come to know the of versatility of mediums. I kinda buy random medium for my oil painting and I just use it to coat up my work, if I decide to let it go and paint over it again.. I shall be using your tips to plan my impasto painting
    Wonderful post, thanks for sharing 🙂
    Cheers!

    • Oh it’s one of my favorite places too! And I can never stop myself from buying some more supplies, even if I don’t “need” any!

  2. I used to have a tray that had a semi permeable membrane, then you could put a wet paper below the membrane…then mix above that. It could stop the acrylics drying for hoours! Have you seen that?

    I think it was called a stay wet palette.

  3. All your posts carry so much information with regards to painting..A guide for beginners in painting…One of the blogs which is always colourful and bright..Haven’t used a medium..Think i need to try using it..Thanks for your useful tips

    Launching SIM Organics This April
    *Menaka Bharathi *
    *SimpleIndianMom*

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